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Anti-tax cap campaign stepped up

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The AMA has acted quickly to pressure freshly installed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to ditch the Government’s controversial $2000 cap on tax deductions for work-related self-education expenses as the campaign against the measure intensifies.

Thousands of doctors outraged by the move have visited the Scrap the Cap website (www.scapthecap.com.au) and, as at 28 June, more than 5200 had signed a petition demanding that the tax change be dumped.

Hours after Mr Rudd was sworn in to replace Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, AMA Vice President Professor Geoffrey Dobb called on him to overturn the tax deduction cap.

In a public statement, Professor Dobb said the measure was poorly conceived, and would undermine the ability of doctors to undertake the training needed to acquire knowledge and skills and keep them up-to-date.

“The cap is bad policy,” he said. “It is anti-education and stifles excellence.”

The AMA is seeking urgent talks with Mr Rudd and Health Minister Tanya Plibersek, as well as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Shadow Health Minister Peter Dutton, to convince both major parties to dump their support for the tax cap – due to come into effect from 1 July next year – ahead of the Federal election.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton has written to AMA members urging them to get involved in the campaign to have the tax change dumped, including signing the petition, providing an account of how the cap would affect them.

In a determined push to bring the issue home for every federal Member of Parliament before the Federal election, the AMA has also launched a dedicated campaign website – doctors4health.com.au – enabling doctors to directly email their local MPs highlighting their objections to the tax change.

The AMA’s campaign has the backing of the nation’s peak general practice representative group United General Practice Australia, which condemned the measure as an ill-considered tax on learning.

“The tax on learning is a contradiction,” UGPA said in a statement released late last week. “The government seeks to have a well-trained medical workforce, but at the same time discourages medical practitioners from enhancing and maintaining their skills to provide high quality patient services.”

An AMA survey has highlighted the devastating impact the $2000 cap is likely to have.

Of almost 600 doctors polled, 79 per cent reported spending more than $5000 a year on self-education expenses.

Dr Hambleton said the result underlined how poorly conceived the policy had been.

In a Discussion Paper released at the end of May, the Government indicated that the full gamut of education-related expenses would count toward the $2000 cap, including tuition and registration fees, textbooks, journals, computers, student union fees, accommodation, running expenses and travel.

“If membership of a professional association includes an educational component – and many do – this cost will also be included in the cap, which makes the reform even worse than originally thought,” Dr Hambleton said. “It will take no time at all for doctors and other professionals to reach the $2000 cap.”

The only deductions for expenses not included in the cap would be the non-CPD component of professional membership fees, overtime meal expenses, travel costs not related to education activities, home office expenses, professional indemnity and income protection insurance and clothing and uniform expenses.

The Government has put up for consultation whether there should be a $250 no-claim threshold, which for many would effectively mean the cap was $1750.

More than 4500 doctors responded to the AMA’s initial survey on the issue, with 98 per cent expressing their strong objection to the change, and Dr Hambleton urged doctors to maintain their rage.

“All politicians need to hear your stories, and they need to feel your anger,” he said.

“The strength of our membership can and will make a difference.”